Home Page As more pubs bite the dust, who is to blame? 16/11/08

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

A few years ago – the last time I was in Nottingham – I took the opportunity to visit The Trip To Jerusalem, the pub in the city centre which dates, as a far as I remember, from 1154.


It’s an extreme example, but it puts you in touch with a tradition which goes back a lot further than that, beyond even that famous inn which had no room at Christmas, and back into antiquity – the tradition of the hostelry, as we know it now, the pub.


But, as with so many traditions which have existed for time out of mind and survived countless changes of custom, fashion and environment, it seems that the 21st century is their Waterloo.


Look around Haverhill at the moment and you cannot fail to notice the continuing contraction of the pub trade. To someone who began work in the 1970s in a profession which is by tradition not wholly disconnected from pubs, the current situation is almost unthinkable.


When we lost the Ram (about where Jubilee Walk is now)  people were a bit surprised that a growing town could only support 15 pubs rather than 16, as well as several social clubs with bars.


Look around now. The Plough and the White Swan are now private premises, the Standard has gone altogether, the Australian Arms is being redeveloped for houses, the Black Horse looks as if it will become a private house and there is a big sign up at the Rose Tavern announcing ‘business opportunity’ which is usually one of the first knells of any inn.


Out of the town centre, where we have gained the Drabbet Smock, there are just the two estate pubs – the Suffolk Punch and the Vixen/Scarlet Pimpernel (depending on your vintage), both of which have been through uncertain times – and we have gained the Haver Arms.


In the villages around Haverhill the cull of the last two decades has been even more dramatic.


So what has happened, what is happening, what does the future hold, and does it really matter? To answer the last question first, it matters a lot, if only because these are businesses and they provide employment. As to their social value, there is a whole different argument to debate later.


We are told that times have changed, but after several thousand years I cannot believe that it is human beings who have miraculously transformed in the last 20 years. Anyway, we know that there is just as much alcohol consumed, if not more, and by a much more affluent market, particularly among the young.


It is not times that have changed, but the business landscape. Supermarkets, having killed off the town’s off licences and taken their place, are making hefty inroads. The great monster of Wetherspoons will no doubt be trotted out by landlords as the most dangerous and destructive enemy.


Of course, Wetherspoons would never have existed if it were not for the public creating the market for it in the first place. As with many such leviathans, we can trace its beginnings to the inability of landlords and breweries to provide what the public wanted at the time when they had the virtual monopoly.


Breweries were probably the more culpable because they strangulated choice in an attempt to defend their own markets.


Of course, the true real ale connoisseur will still seek out the good pints, rather than put up with an avenue of beer pumps serving beer which has been bought up cheap as it nears its best-before date.


But there are not many of us left. In many premises the young are grouped into herds supping lager and any of them who attempt to sample a darker-coloured liquid are looked upon is weird or worse.


Then there was the fashion for refurbishing the inside of pubs to look like a village hall or a hotel, or turning them into bistros, clubs, eateries and gastro-pubs. Our ears were assaulted by impossibly loud music, our eyes blinded by giant screens showing the pointless kickarounds of the Premier League, and our senses crowded by ranks of flashing gaming machines.


Is it any wonder that Wetherspoons’ initial brand of no music, no big screens and no gaming machines proved very attractive? The trouble is, when it’s full, you can’t hear yourself speak for the sound of other people’s conversations because everyone talks so loud nowadays.


I pass the Aussies and the Black Horse with great sadness now, and I often wonder which one will be the next to bite the dust. No one seems to want to go down to the pub for a few pints and a chat any more.


Instead, there  has to be a reason, an event, whether it be a football match, a family birthday or Sunday lunch. We used to go down to the pub for a few pints before Sunday lunch, not for it.


The social loss is incalculable and has been a major factor in the inability of people to make proper friendships, even though they may have thousands of Facebook ‘friends’.


If the walls of those bars could talk, they would have myriads of the sort of tales to tell that gave so much colour to our lives. Now they are being silenced for ever.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer